Like many players before him‚ Chris Potter noticed that some of his band's best music happened at soundchecks. Usually‚ this observation only results in a slap to the forehead and some muttered variation of "Shit! We shoulda recorded that!" Choosing a more proactive route‚ Potter sculpted Ultrahang‚ a set of tunes based on some of CPU's pre-show jams. We've heard glorious music "in the moment" from Underground on the live dates Lift and Follow the Red Line; however‚ the fact that Potter and his partners successfully breeds that spontaneous musical combustion in the studio says a lot about this group.
The opening title track has Potter in the clear‚ quietly working a simple figure through his tenor sax. As the figure gains power and becomes the track's foundation‚ the rest of Underground enters piece by piece‚ with Nate Smith setting up a clip-clop beat on drums while guitarist Adam Rogers and keyboardist Craig Taborn slashing and splashing stark‚ glaring colors to and fro. In no time‚ the music morphs from a solitary figure into a towering neo fusion killer robot that's come to Earth to shift paradigms and kick ass.
But don't judge the killer robot too harshly now… because it can dance! Midway through Potter's bass clarinet solo on "Facing East‚" Rogers and Smith slide the tune into a busting groove that's closer to James Brown than Clifford Brown‚ and they funk things up even more on "Boots" and "Rumples." The give-and-take in this band is tremendous‚ as are the harmonies Potter and Rogers establish on the truly nasty "Time's Arrow."
Having the keyboardist cover the bass parts usually produces less-than-satisfactory results‚ but Taborn's Fender Rhodes emits bottom lines that are so gravelly and relentless‚ satisfaction is guaranteed. Taborn's Rhodes is utterly hypnotizing‚ particularly on Potter's introspective bass clarinet-propelled version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me‚ Babe."
As Paul McCartney and Jason Newsted can attest‚ trying to make your second band as hot as your first is a rough road to ride. The work Potter did with the Dave Holland Quintet was undeniably great‚ but the passion and commitment coursing through this music is nothing less than spectacular. Chris Potter Underground started life as a side project‚ but Ultrahang puts it front and center‚ where it belongs.